the barn in fall

the barn in fall

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Milkweed and Monarchs

The green theme on this page is a bit overwhelming, but here's more chlorophyl for you - a post about another weed I allow to thrive in my pasture: milkweed.

Horses don't like milkweed any more than they like those daisies in my previous post.  But monarch butterflies do.  In fact, monarchs need milkweed.  (Brace yourselves; science Googling ahead.)  They lay their eggs on the plant, the caterpillar larvae feed on the plant, they form their coccoons there, and the butterfly sips its nectar, along with a few other flowers.  In fact, the butterflies even gain a unique protection from eating milkweed as larvae - they take in cardiac glycosides, which makes them taste bad and is poisonous to birds.  (I don't know how, but I'm guessing the cardiac part is a clue.)

Monarchs migrate, the only butterfly that does.  Last year storms in Mexico killed many of the butterflies.  It takes 2 or 3 generations for the surviving monarchs to get this far north, but I haven't seen a single monarch yet, and this is when they should be here.  (Have you?  Let me know!)  For those who make it, I've got a smorgasbord of milkweed waiting in my pasture.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Daisy Days of Summer

This time of year, wild daisies pop up all over the pasture.  Apparently they don't taste good to horses, because they last for a couple weeks and come back a little stronger each year.  I suppose I should try eradicating them to make room for more of that yummy grass, but they're so pretty I can't do it.

That's Code Red, up to his fetlocks in dasies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What I Learned at the Shooting Range

Yesterday I was writing a tense action scene that I can't give away, except to say it involved a shotgun.  At least I thought it was a shotgun.  Might have been single barrel, might have been double.  Obviously something to research.  But for sure, it was loaded.  Might have been birdshot.  Or buckshot.  Or...what else do they shoot?  And now that I think about it, which packs the biggest punch, and which might give the biggest kick, and is it enough to throw the shooter off balance? 

The easiest answer was to call my daughter who has used a shotgun for target shooting.  She was with her fiance, who knows even more about guns, and tried to help.  As each question got more involved, he finally said, "Why don't you come over and I'll take you to the shooting range?"


It turned out we couldn't use birdshot at the range, but we could fire all sorts of handguns.  There are no handguns in my current novel.  But sooner or later one of my future characters will pick up a handgun and shoot someone - it's happened in the past.  And I'd have no idea what the gun will feel like or how to load and fire it.  I had to fill in this gaping hole in my knowledge.  So we rented a 9mm Glock, a typical policeman's gun, and 100 rounds of ammunition.  And wow, the things I didn't know!

First, you know that acrid smell of gunpowder that's supposedly evident after shooting a gun?  I never smelled it, not even with other guns being fired in there.  And you know that bang-bang-bang you hear on TV when cops shoot at bad guys?  Not even close to how loud it is, and I had earmuffs on.  And I never saw spent shells flying around on TV, hitting cops in the head like they were hitting me.  And those lady cops who impress their male partners with their shooting skills?  They better have a lighter weight gun, because that Glock 9 kicks like an angry donkey.  Admittedly, I'm not big, but I can swing a sledge hammer without embarrassing myself too badly, so I'm not a total wimp.  But I couldn't squeeze off two fast shots without the second one zinging over the target's head into some theoretical innocent bystander.

So I learned a lot of things that I need to know.  Also, spent bullet casings and shotgun shells on my writing desk give it a nice edgy feel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tall, Dark, and Handsome Dog

My neighbor works with a dog and cat rescue organization.  She will go on calls at a moment's notice, and sees things I don't even want to know about.  Most of the neglected and abused animals she sees come from the nearby city of Pontiac, hard hit by the economic bad times.  Ninety-five percent of the dogs are pit bulls, bred to fight.  I neither support nor villify the breed, but I do take a definite stand on the people involved.  I despise them.  I will spare you the few details I've heard, but you should know that unwanted dogs are often disposed of by having their throats slit.  Those are the lucky ones.

Except for the REALLY lucky ones, the ones who cross paths with my neighbor.  They get to see a new world with people who care for them instead of abusing them.

We "babysat" one of her rescues today, a nice looking guy awaiting adoption.  He spent a few hours in our back yard, just one of those handsome strangers who come through town and set every female heart aquiver.  Nikita took one look and suddenly turned into a girl, all coy and flirtatious.  "Oh, please be gentle with me, you big, strong, handsome man."  Gag.

I was so embarrassed for her - not exactly the strong type of woman I write about.  But it was all an act.  When he fell for it, she turned into a feisty little hellcat, with a lot of fake growls and pretend bites.  He was swept off his oversized paws, completely smitten.  Ah, romance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Living in the First Draft

My characters are busy wrapping up the plot of my latest book, bringing the good guys and bad guys together for the Black Moment, and setting up the emotional conflict so that it looks like there will be no happily ever after just before WHAM, there it is.  It's complex, and occasionally they get it wrong. 

Yesterday they acted out a scene, ending it with an insightful point to ponder.  Blech.  They should have ended it with a load of emotional angst, with undertones of impending danger.  So as the director of this drama, I yelled cut, deleted a couple pages, and made them back up and take their conversation and their wandering hands in a different direction.  Now the good guy is ready to rip the lungs out of the bad guy, while the girl is all torn up over the bad news she hasn't yet delivered to the good guy.  Much better.

And that's when I thought how nice it would be if I could hit delete and re-write a few scenes in my own life.  Like, every day.  Then I could say all those clever things I think of two minutes too late.

Monday, June 6, 2011

If I Die, It Was The Chicken

I'm getting close to writing the end of my fifth book, still untitled.  That deserves a reward.  At least, that's the excuse I stand by for buying fried chicken fingers at the deli this weekend.  I know they're bad for my stubborn cholesterol level, but if I eat cardboard the rest of the day, I should be okay.

In the spirit of healthy eating, I pulled off a large piece of deep-fried coating and offered it to Nikita.  This is the dog who thinks horse manure is the ultimate treat, so naturally I expected her to scarf it down and go wiggly with gratitude.  She cracked her eyelids, sniffed the offering, then turned and faced the other way. 

Crap.  I ate something even my dog wouldn't touch.  This can't be good.

Nikita, the Siberian husky, roughing it in the air conditioned house:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sixty and Pregnant

Not me!  This lady:
According to the Almightly Internet, she's a Blanding's turtle, about 55-60 years old judging by size.  She might live another ten years or more.  The odds are good as long as she stays away from roads. 

I met her a couple years ago, but posted it now because this is the time of year she came through my yard.  It's also the time of year we commonly have to stop to move turtles out of the road around here.  (Unless they're snapping turtles, in which case I just wish them luck.  Not going near those suckers.)  Turtles in the road are so common in June that I had to research this one.  As suspected, they are most likely females, on their way from one pond to another to lay their eggs.  (Mixing the DNA to avoid inbreeding - nature's smart that way.)  This particular turtle has probably been doing it since she was between 14-20 years old, taking a quarter mile hike to the closest pond to lay her eggs.  No small trip on turtle legs. 

Every year!  A quarter mile each way!  What do you want to bet she's cursing the male turtle who knocked her up every inch of the way?